One of my favorite hunts is the spring bear hunt in Canada. This past season makes my third consecutive year chasing the elusive black bruins of St. Stephen, New Brunswick. Bear densities here are high, in 2019, my guide had his clients shoot 18 bears, 4 shy of his highest total season of 22. This year, that translated to a success rate of over 90%. This of course excludes the clients (like me), who passed on smaller bears that could have been shot.
Spring Bear vs Fall Bear Weights
Spring bears will be 30% heavier come fall, meaning a bear weighing 150 pounds in the spring will be close to 200 pounds come fall. Because of this, spring bears, fresh out of hibernation, are notoriously hard to judge weigh. Two hunting seasons ago, I pulled the trigger on a 170 pound bear that’s back was even with the top of a 55 gallon drum. I was positive the bruin would be over 200 pounds, I was wrong. The bear had the apparent high, gait, nose and ears that lead me to believe he was bigger, of course by fall that same bear would have weighed close to 220 pounds.
Crossing the Border
While some my cringe at the prospect of making the border crossing with a firearm, I have found that with a passport and proper paperwork, this to be an extremely simple endeavor. Local guides provide licenses and provide the single page of paperwork required to bring a firearm into Canada. Upon return to the US, the American customs will require you to have a declaration form, so before entering Canada be sure to stop by the U.S. customs office and get one. Hunters who wish to hunt with crossbow have an even easier entry into Canada as crossbows require no declaration paperwork. Clients have the option of staying in Canada throughout the entirety of the hunt to eliminate the necessity of crossing the border each day. Personally, I stayed with family in Calais and crossed the border everyday with my firearm and never encountered any issue.
Picking the Right Guide Service
Picking the Right Guide Service
What I like best about the guide service I used for my hunt was the meticulous care he employs in prepping bait sites, monitoring bear activity and especially the comfortable wooden blinds he has constructed to better hide hunters and protect them from the elements. While tree stands are available, I always request a blind as they are extremely comfortable. As a matter of fact, I am sitting here in the blind writing this story!
Sites are baited with a huge assortment of goodies (not just doughnuts) that seem to appeal to the tastes of hunger roaming bears fresh out of hibernation. The food stuffs include, mixed nuts, confectionary sugar, fry oil, candy and yes, even Tim Horton doughnuts. The guide also sprays down the site every night with Liquid Smoke. This strong smelling product seems to serve the dual purpose of attracting bears and also covering up any human odors.
The guide has cameras on every bait site and when I arrive he asks me, “Do you want to shoot “a” bear or “the” bear?” What he means to say, is he has sites where he is seeing smaller bears (110-130 lbs) almost every evening and other sites where larger bears (175-300) are being seen occasionally. This really blew my mind, the guide had such close tabs on the bear population, he could practically tailor a hunt to each hunter. I opted for the “the” bear hunt and saw a massive bruin creep in from the shadows on Tuesday night about 5 minutes past legal but offer no ethical shot.
Have a Seat
When picking out a guide service for a bear hunt it is important to ask a lot of questions. I have been on multiple bear hunts over the years and seen it all. Perhaps the worst was in two occasions, when I went with outfitters who sat me in a chair 20 yards from the bait site in minimal cover and told me not to move a muscle for 5 hours. Now, I’m sure there are some amazingly talented hunters out there who could accomplish this feat but not me. I always have a tickle in my throat and need a drink, have to pee or just get plain bored and fidgety. If an outfitter puts a sport in a blind or tree stand with minimal cover and their answer to this inadequacy is “don’t move”, you are with the wrong guide service.
I’m sitting here writing this story on my cell phone, in a high back plastic lawn chair with a padded seat, my gun hangs from a piece of string from the ceiling and all I need to do to shoot is lean forward, aim, turn off the safety and pull the trigger. The front window is covered in a screen, to partially protect me from the ravenous hordes of mosquitoes (thought I also have brought a Thermacell). It’s currently raining buckets, but inside the blind I am warm and dry. In the 10 bear hunts I have been on, with 7 different guides, this is certainly the most enjoyable.
Another important consideration when choosing a guide is how will the best be processed after the shot? A majority of guided simply quarter or debone the animal and leave everything else up to the hunter. Are you prepared with coolers, vacuum packing supplies, knives, ice, etc. to make sure your meat doesn’t go to waste? Make sure you understand in very clear terms what the guide provides and cannot provide. Local butchers maybe available, if hunters are looking for an easier alternative, it pays to ask ahead and even call them to make sure they are operating.
Care for that Hide
When skinning, the guide will ask the hunter what he/she is planning to do with the hide as the skinning cuts will be determined by the choice. What about that beautiful bear hide? Will it become a piece of taxidermy? If yes, what specifically? Rug? Shoulder mount? Full body mount? The hunter should be aware if the costs associated with each and plan accordingly.